‘They don’t kind of get your trust by being horrible and nasty. They get it because they make you feel like you’re special or that what is happening is unusual and special. They love bomb you until you are like a little spider stuck in a web and don’t know how to get out of it. Yeah, I really felt like that. I felt like I had no idea how this was ever going to end.’
In the late 1980s when Trisha was 16 years old, a teacher at her government-run high school began to pay her special attention. She was vulnerable due to a family tragedy and a lack of support in the home. The school culture also allowed for ‘familiar relationships’ between students and teachers. ‘It seemed to be accepted’, she said.
The teacher, who was in his late 20s, was Trisha’s home tutor and had the added responsibilities of pastoral care and guidance of her studies. The teacher would attend student activities outside of school, ‘fraternising’ and ‘going to parties’.
It was on a school camp that he first acted inappropriately towards Trisha. He asked intrusive, personal questions about her sex life and kissed her. Trisha became the focus of his attention during and after school and he used his position to take her out of another teacher’s class.
‘Because he was my home tutor teacher he presented as though, “There’s an urgent matter” … I thought there must have been some kind of accident or something bad had happened he had come to tell me.’
He began to exert influence over Trisha and the abuse progressed to include sexual acts and penetration. It continued for five months.
‘All my friends knew what was happening but because he was kind of cool they were all sort of like … One friend thought that it was completely wrong. Other friends kind of thought, it was sort of a bit curious and interesting.’
He groomed both Trisha and her mother. Today, she finds it difficult to believe that other teachers and adults didn’t know of the relationship or at least think his behaviour inappropriate. One incident stands out.
‘I had … pre-formal photos … and [the teacher] came as well and he rocked up with this massive bunch of flowers for me and one massive bunch of flowers for my mum as well. Thinking back, you know, “You were just buttering her up” … grooming the family.’
The teacher began to take Trisha to isolated areas and would sulk if his plans were thwarted, all part of the manipulation and psychological influence he exerted on her.
‘The pressure that I was feeling trying to keep this a secret [started] to unravel … You know meeting in secret places and him coming to work … even my manager at work recognising that I wasn’t okay … [The teacher] would ring me at home, he would come to my work.
‘It’s just surprising looking back as an adult how can you not have seen that there was something not right there?’
Trisha didn’t feel able to tell an adult about the abuse because she was concerned about the risk to his career.
‘You don’t want to create shame for someone else … I felt that if anyone found out about this I would be in massive trouble but he would lose his job.’
She now also realises that she felt sorry for him.
‘[That situation] where you kind of feel sorry for the person that’s doing the damage to you. I think that’s just part of that vulnerability from my childhood and not really having a support at home.’
During the school holidays the teacher went away and Trisha realised how his behaviour was affecting her.
‘I felt such relief that he wasn’t in town and I could just be myself with my friends …
‘We organised this day … and he showed up … I just had to leave. And then when he chased after me … he appeared so hurt and … I said … “Just keep away from me. I don’t want to see you anymore. I don’t want to talk to you anymore”. It was like I’d really hurt him. And I just [thought], “Trisha get on the bus, get on the bus and get away from him”.’
The man pursued her for a short time but soon stopped.
‘I don’t know where I got that courage. I think I just knew no one else was going to do this for me. Like, I just have to do this.’
Trisha has told a number of people about the abuse, including the police. She sought assistance from the support organisation, Bravehearts, to prepare for her session with the Royal Commission. Bravehearts weren’t as supportive or as proactive as she had hoped, which caused her significant anxiety.
‘It kind of triggered a lot – it takes a lot to come out and start this process and then for things to not be addressed in a timely way or incorrect, I started doubting … it makes me feel like I shouldn’t be speaking out. It makes me feel like maybe I should just forget this.’
Trisha has a supportive partner who has ‘stuck with me through my ups and downs of shame and self-loathing and anxiety’. She’s had periods of depression too, but has gained perspective on her abuse through her psychology studies.
‘I kind of knew that I was doing that because I wanted to help people but I also wanted to understand and heal myself.’
During her academic work Trisha came across ‘a timeline of how perpetrators actually influence their victims.
‘I looked at that … and went tick, tick … isolate the victim, give them alcohol, make them feel special – It’s like, “Wow, that’s really like a how-to-do-it list and he pretty much followed every step”.’
Trisha has had ongoing counselling over many years but remains ‘very wary of people who are very super-confident, the person that everyone thinks is great, those very charismatic people’.
She feels ‘very lucky’ that despite her abuse, she has had a stable and fulfilling life. Trisha feels that the Royal Commission is ‘an opportunity to hand it over and say “That happened”. It doesn’t have to stay with me anymore’.